Stephen and David Dewaele are mashups incarnate. Like those hybridized, bastardized pop songs, the Belgian brothers seamlessly mix musical styles both as a band and as DJs.
They began making music in the mid-'90s with Soulwax, a rock band that leaned hard on synthesizers and dance rhythms. But it was as 2 Many DJs that the Dewaeles would make their first major mark on popular music.
2 Many DJs' groundbreaking mix As Heard on Radio Soulwax pt. 1 originally aired in 2001 as a radio program in Belgium and later on the BBC before being widely circulated as a bootleg CD. The mix initiated the mashup phenomenon of the early 21st century, and their commercially released follow-up, As Heard on Radio Soulwax pt. 2, made Soulwax and 2 Many DJs household names (assuming your house is a nightclub or music blog).
"It did have a bigger influence on popular culture than we expected," Stephen Dewaele says of their mashup mixes. "But the minute the corporate machine asked us to use it, we stopped making any. When MTV asked us to make a mashup TV concept, we stopped."
But the mashup continues to resound in pop culture. "Indie-dance" nights have gone from incorporating the occasional mashup or crossover hit to embracing all kinds of genres, from electro to hiphop to yacht rock. Their popularity has inspired a renewed interest in the craft of DJing—not the hypertechnical turntablism of the '90s, but simply the populist art of the mix.
As the mashup bandwagon became crowded with hack DJs and wannabe producers, the Dewaeles began looking for other ways to integrate the sounds they loved. "All of the mashup stuff that happened made us do Soulwax's Nite Versions," Dewaele says, "which is something completely different."
Nite Versions further blurs the lines between dance and rock, while combining the Dewaeles' roles as musicians, DJs, and producers. The album collects remixed tracks from the band's 2004 album, Any Minute Now—which had itself spawned three singles, including the Nancy Whang–assisted "NY Excuse" and the cheeky pharmaceutical rave-up "E Talking"—and sequences them into a continuous, delirious DJ-style mix full of thumping beats, loose high hats, distorted guitars, corrosively modulated synths, and processed, echoing vocal fragments. A rock record literally cut up and reimagined for the dance floor, Nite Versions effectively bridges what Dewaele sees as a very American divide.
"I think dance music in the States is seen as very gay-oriented house music," he says. "But I guess we and many others come from rock/punk backgrounds and try to incorporate that into our music."
For the Dewaeles, rock and dance have always been complementary—"I have never seen them as separate music styles," Dewaele says—and the brothers frequently work with other acts that combine the two, such as Tiga, LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk, Gorillaz, and the Gossip. "When the Clash wrote 'Radio Clash,' it was rock meets dub meets hiphop, and people danced to it."
The brothers' upbringing was key in establishing their unified take on music. They grew up in the Belgian city of Ghent, a "very small town" with a large student population and a central location that played a major role in their musical development. "It's right in the middle of Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Cologne," says Dewaele. "So you have all these influences and a small but very much alive party scene. During the end of the '80s, Ghent was the center for a lot of electro and new beat. Dance music and rock music crossed over all the time here."
The brothers were exposed to music from an early age as well. "Music has always been very important in my family," says Dewaele. "Our dad was a radio DJ, so we've grown up amongst piles of records. But he was very surprised when we decided to start a band and play instruments. The DJing just came about when we were touring as a band. We would get very bored, and we decided to DJ after shows so we could party."
Now the brothers Dewaele and crew have launched the multifaceted Radio Soulwax tour, which combines DJ sets from their 2 Many DJs incarnation with live sets from the band now called Soulwax Nite Versions. This will be their first U.S. tour since playing a handful of dates in 2004 before the release of Nite Versions. British director Saam Farahmand (probably best known for his American Apparel make-out sesh video for Simian Mobile Disco's "Hustler") has been filming the tour's dates so far for what Dewaele calls "a documentary meets Stop Making Sense kind of film" about the band.
"We started doing this Radio Soulwax concept," Dewaele says, "which means we would take over the dance stages during festivals and play as Nite Versions (which is Soulwax the band playing deconstructed versions of their own material but with live instruments), invite other bands we like and who we felt were doing similar things (like LCD Soundsystem, Who Made Who, Vitalic, et al.), and at the end, close off as 2 Many DJs."
It's a properly schizophrenic way to experience the Dewaele brothers' mashed-up musical efforts, with the rock band playing dance music and the DJs playing everything else. And it's a satisfying setup for the brothers as well.
"When we play with Soulwax, we play our own music; when we DJ, we play other people's music," says Dewaele. "I would have to say I prefer DJing, because then we are getting paid to fuck up other people's music."